Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Crown Lynn swan

I have wanted a Crown Lynn swan for a while now and yesterday I bought my very first one home. 
It has been teasing me everytime I drove past one of the antique shops in town - and has been in the window for a couple of months.  I went in and was very pleased that the price had been lowered - perfect!
I decided to treat myself to an early Christmas pressie (my excuse).  I'm just deciding on the best place to put it, far away from little hands.
I think this may be the start of a (beautiful) collection..................
What do you collect?
Below my photos is a history of the Crown Lynn swan by Peter Smith a Crown Lynn specialist. 


A History...................
The Crown Lynn Swan - by Peter Smith
The Crown Lynn factory produced thousands of objects for a diverse number of uses, but there is one that is synonymous with Crown Lynn; the swan.

The swan was produced in three sizes. The large and small versions were extremely popular, the medium lesser so, and as a result was produced in far lesser numbers. There are two different versions of the large size; On Lake has a sleeker body and no feet, while On Shore depicts the swan’s feet, with a much plumper body and a more flared opening on the back.

While always referred to as a vase, there are some rather obvious issues with using the swan for flower arrangements – although people have tried with rather comical results. The irregular shape of the opening, not to mention the fact it’s a swan, make it difficult to create a harmonious balance between the vase and anything protruding out of its back.
The swans impractical design was not however an oversight. It was a deliberate and clever compromise of the conditions of period – the post war years.

Throughout World War Two austerity measures were in place throughout the Commonwealth – the public were actively discouraged from spending money of anything ornamental (and therefor frivolous) when all resources should first and foremost be put towards the war effort.

Government regulations would reduce the output of the English potteries to ‘Utility Ware’ – only items of practical use could be produced. Coloured glazes and painted decoration were banned as the minerals and pigments involved were requisitioned by the armed forces. As a result everything produced during this period was white.

Ornaments were obviously no longer made, but vases were exempt because they had a use. The potteries found they could compromise the strict regulations by producing ornamental vases – as long as the object they produced had an opening in it, it was a vase.

Being unable to apply any additional decoration lead to rethinking the production process; moulds that originally only formed a standard shape were revised to add texture or embossing during the process. It did not take long before entirely new moulds were producing a variety of new and impractical ‘vases’ – flowers, ewers, ships – and swans.
The Crown Lynn swan is in fact a copy of an original English version (most likely by Sylvac) and fully complied with Utility Ware regulations; it had a practical use (a vase) and no additional decoration (mass produced in white, although rarer coloured versions do exist). But it was also attractive in its own right and could be displayed like an ornament, without being called an ornament.

This was a key point in the success of the Crown Lynn swan. A significant percentage of the New Zealand public at the time were newly arrived British immigrants, who had endured years of strict rationing and social engineering, and were particularly hesitant of buying anything that didn’t have a purpose.

The simple, honest (and compliant) design of the swan was well received by the public, and it displayed well in the newly built (and usually sparsely decorated) family homes of many returned servicemen in the 1950’s.

In the 1960’s the swans would go on to playing a part in the rite of passage for many New Zealanders, as they were gifted to mark significant events. Swans were presented at weddings, birthdays, housewarmings and of course Mother’s Day. The birth of a child would result in receiving a smaller sized swan to go with its ‘Mother’, the number of small swans on display in a house usually corresponding to the number of children.

People seldom thought to buy a swan for themselves, so common was the practise of gifting them. If one waited long enough, one would get a swan. The practice of gifting became so common that by the late sixties almost every house had at least one, and so expected was their presence that people stopped noticing them.

The 1970’s brought about new trends, hand potted items were far more popular than anything made by machine, and earthy colours such as brown and grey were the height of fashion. The swan would spend the next two decades in relative obscurity, a nostalgic token of a bygone era, until the new millennium brought a new décor craze – minimalism. Minimalism brought austerity measures back into play as homeowners stripped their houses of decorative ornamentation, and the public went on a buying rampage for accessories that would comply with the new style – it had to be unadorned, precisely made and preferably white. It was only a matter of time before Crown Lynn’s ‘white ware’ would be rediscovered.

It has taken the Crown Lynn swan sixty years to complete a cycle from the height of popular taste, down into obscurity, and back again as an iconic and coveted object. While the swan has found an new appreciative audience today, very few of them will know of the swans humble wartime origins in England, or social significance in post war New Zealand.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Beck


  1. How fascinating, I have never seen one of these before. Can totally see why you would want one though, do any of your family have one? mel x

    1. I love them - totally appeal to my inner nanna! None of my family have them but my mum remembers seeing them in so many homes. One of my lovely friends collects them too. There is even a company here in NZ that rents them out for vintage weddings. xo

  2. I've always loved these swans, my grandma had one, never knew any of this, thanks for the history lesson! :)

    1. That's fantastic - was hoping this post would stir memories. When you mention them, people do comment on who in their family had them. xo

  3. There's one up at our bach :-) They are beautiful. I went to the crown lynn exhibition when it as at the city gallery a few years back and since then I've been a little bit addicted to crown lynn crockery ... just such beautiful shapes and vintage patterns. x

    1. I would love to have gone to that exhibition (did'nt know it was on!) I would have driven the length of the country to go! I've done a post on my obsession for Crown Lynn :-) What a great Kiwiana touch to have a swann at your bach. xo

  4. YAYYYY!! I'm so glad you've finally got one! xx

  5. I have to admit I had never heard of them, either. What a fascinating history.

  6. I've not hard of them before, but they are beautiful and such a fascinating history. Suzy x

  7. They are beautiful and I really enjoyed reading that bit of history about them.

    I would like to invite you to enter the Pacifica gift set giveaway at my blog now:

  8. Lovely post, quite like an old-fashioned swan myself.

  9. Oh How amazing, thank you for sharing the history as I am an avid collector of this type of swan...I have a gorgeous black one to
    Daisy J x

  10. OMG I LOVE THESE! guess what...i started collecting white swans a few weeks ago! i have always loved them and then saw 4 at a carboot sale 2 weeks ago! they are not crown lynn (i hadn't even realised you could get crown lynn swans till now!) they are cheap and cheerful little swans that are pretending to be crown lynn but guess what i'm going to be searching for from now on!!! xxx will have to post my new collection really soon xxx


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